Indigenous Cultures in Video Games

Tia Winter | 23 February 2018

We’ve seen cultural misappropriation happen in many ways, and we are arguably more aware of it now than we have ever been. We’ve also seen an incredible rise in video games, and in the power and reach of what they can do. So, in many ways, nothing could be more apt than using video games to redress the preconceptions and tropes that have surrounded many first-nation cultures for so long.

Older video games, like older movies and television shows, actually contain some seriously offensive stereotypes, with natives boiling people in pots, eating human bones or engaging in other barbaric behaviour. These stereotypes don’t do those they represent any favours, and have caused plenty of upsets. Stereotypes are also evident in several online pokies games such as Mayana or Aztec Warrior Princess available at Casino Land. In these games however, the nuances of the cultures are somewhat ignored, but the game play itself isn’t as out rightly offensive. Instead, the belief is that the mythology surrounding these exotic stereotypes is lucky, and when we spin the reels, that luck will rub off on us!

But in many ways, as we work towards evolving into a sophisticated worldwide society that is free of stereotypes and respects everyone equally, these generalisations are rightly seen as ignorance that needs to be corrected. Video games are one resource being harnessed to do that.

Video Games as an Expression of Modern Culture

Technology has evolved to allow game developers to create incredible worlds. Virtual and Augmented Reality help us to engage with these even more, with superb graphics and flawless functionality. The immediacy of video games and mobile pokies games, and the interaction that they require, makes them a great platform for education on a wide number of issues and subjects.

Introducing different cultures in a respectful way is the perfect utilisation of this. The modern culture of video games integrates all aspects of other cultures, which have ancient aspects that are revered in their history and are still relevant to everyday life.

Respect is Vital

When it comes to something like spreading awareness and understanding of different societies, the potential for perpetuating stereotypes is huge. There should be no condescending elements in this important work, and the full way that a civilisation has interpreted their world should be expressed. Luckily, more and more, we see that this is what is happening. In the indigenous singing game Singustics, for example, the Americas are portrayed as Turtle Island, a name that many native communities recognise.

Increasingly, developers from First Nations and other indigenous cultures are contributing to the creation of the games that portray them, and the first company established specifically to further the cause of Native Americans is going from strength to strength. Upper One Games, which claims the title of North America’s first indigenous-owned gaming company, is focused on immersing players in the culture of indigenous Alaskan people, and is using the profits generated to improve their situation and prospects.

The game that Upper One has launched is set in the Arctic, and draws on native mythology, tools, language and belief systems as the core protagonist works to survive in the wilderness. Games like this are dealing with the long-standing stereotypes that Western-centric video games have ascribed to every other culture in the world.

Working sensitively to capture the essence of different societies while educating mainstream westernised culture is no small undertaking, but the payoffs are potentially huge. Learning about and respecting indigenous nations is just as important, as Western civilisation could transform the world in very positive ways. As we all work towards living together in harmony, video games seem to be a way of doing that without alienating anyone, and of spreading a message of cultural respect.

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